Japanese Vocabulary: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the more subtle meanings and uses of common Japanese words


There are some significant challenges for English speakers learning Japanese, including the entirely different alphabet, the difference in how words are stressed when spoken, and the different conjugations of common verbs. 

For those moving on from Japanese 101, there are still many questions about word usage and meanings of common and less-than-common words. In order to become more proficient in speaking and reading Japanese, here are some frequently asked questions about various words and their proper usage.


What Does "Nante" Mean?

Nante (なんて) can be used in the following situations.

To express an exclamation beginning with "how" or "what."

Nante kireina hana nan darou. 
How beautiful the flower is!
Nante ii hito nan deshou.
What a nice person she is!

Nanto (なんと) can be replaced with nante in the above cases.

To mean "such things" or "and so on" in a sentence structure. 

Yuurei nante inai yo!
There are no such things as ghosts!
Ken ga sonna koto o suru nante shinjirarenai.
I can't believe that 
Ken does such a thing. 
Yuki o okorasetari nante 
shinakatta darou ne.

I hope you didn't offend Yuki 
or anything like that.

Nado (など)can be replaced with nante in the above cases.


How is the Word "Chotto" Used?

Chotto (ちょっと) can be used in several different situations.

It can mean a little, a bit, or a small amount.

Yuki ga chotto furimashita.
It snowed a little.
Kono tokei wa chotto takai desu ne. 
This watch is a little expensive, isn't it?


It can mean "a moment" or an indeterminate amount of time.

Chotto omachi kudasai.  
Wait a moment, please.
Nihon ni chotto sunde imashita. 
I have lived in Japan for a while.


It can also be used as an exclamation to convey urgency.

Chotto! wasuremono! (informal) 
ちょっと。 忘れ物。
Hey! You left behind this.


Chotto is also a kind of linguistic softener, equivalent to one of the uses of the word "just" in English.

Chotto mite mo ii desu ka. 
Can I just look?
Chotto sore o totte kudasai. 
Could you just pass me that?


And finally chotto may be used to avoid direct criticism in a reply. 

Kono kutsu dou omou.
Un, chotto ne ...

うん、ちょっとね ...
What do you think about these shoes?
Hmm, it's a little ...

In this case chotto is said quite slowly with a falling intonation. This is a very convenient expression as it is used when people want to turn someone down or negate something without being direct or unkind.


What is the Difference Between "Goro" and "Gurai"?

A. Both goro (ごろ) and gurai (ぐらい)are used to express approximation. However, goro is only used for a specific point in time to mean approximately.

Sanji goro uchi ni kaerimasu.
I will come home around three o'clock.
Rainen no sangatsu goro 
nihon ni ikimasu. 

I am going to Japan 
around March next year.


Gurai (ぐらい) is used for an approximate time period or quantity.

Ichi-jikan gurai machimashita.
I waited for about an hour.
Eki made go-fun gurai desu.
It takes about five minutes 
to get to the station.
Kono kutsu wa nisen en gurai deshita.
These shoes were about 2,000 yen.
Hon ga gojussatsu gurai arimasu.
There are about 50 books.
Ano ko wa go-sai gurai deshou.
That child is probably 
about five years old.


Gurai  can be replaced with hodo ほど) or yaku (約 though yaku comes before the quantity. Examples:

Sanjuupun hodo hirune o shimashita.
I had a nap for about 30 minutes.
Yaku gosen-nin no kanshuu desu. 
There are about 5,000 in the audience.


What is the Difference Between "Kara" and "Node"?

The conjunctions kara (から) and node (ので)both express reason or cause. While kara is used for reason or cause of a speaker's volition, opinion and so on, node is for existing (existed) action or situation.

Kino wa samukatta node 
uchi ni imashita.

Since it was cold, I stayed home.
Atama ga itakatta node 
gakkou o yasunda.

Since I had a headache, 
I didn't go to school.
Totemo shizukadatta node 
yoku nemuremashita.

Since it was very quiet, 
I could sleep well.
Yoku benkyou shita node 
shiken ni goukaku shita.

Since I studied hard, 
I passed the examination. 


Sentences expressing personal judgment such as speculation, suggestion, intention, request, opinion, volition, invitation, and so forth would use kara.

Kono kawa wa kitanai kara
tabun sakana wa inai deshou.

Since this river is polluted, 
there is probably no fish.
Mou osoi kara hayaku nenasai.
Go to bed, since it is getting late.
Kono hon wa totemo omoshiroi 
kara yonda hou ga ii.

This book is very interesting, 
so you'd better to read it.
Kono kuruma wa furui kara
atarashi kuruma ga hoshii desu.

This car is old, so I want a new car.
Samui kara mado o shimete kudasai.
It is cold, so please close the window.


While kara focuses more on the reason, node focuses more on the resulting effect. This is why the kara clause is used independently more often than node.

Doushite okureta no.
Densha ni nori okureta kara.

Why were you late?
Because I missed the train.


Kara can be immediately followed by "desu (~です).

Atama ga itakatta kara desu.
Because I had a headache.
Atama ga itakatta node desu.


What is the Difference Between "Ji" and "Zu"?

Both hiragana and katakana have two ways of writing ji and zu. Although their sounds are same in either writing, じ and ず are used most of the time. In a few rare cases they are written ぢ and づ.

In a compound word, the second part of the word often changes the sound. If the second part of word begins with "chi (ち)" or "tsu (つ)," and it changes the sound to ji or zu, it is written ぢ or づ.


ko (small) + tsutsumi (wrapping)kozutsumi (package)
ta (hand) + tsuna (rope)tazuna (reins)
hana (nose) + chi (blood)hanaji (bloody nose)


When ji follows chi, or zu follows tsu in a word, it is written ぢ or づ.

to shrink
to continue




What is the Difference Between "Masu" and "te imasu"?

The suffix "masu (~ます)" is the present tense of a verb. It is used in formal situations.

Hon o yomimasu.
I read a book.
Ongaku o kikimasu.
I listen music.

When "imasu (~います)" follows the "te form" of a verb, it describes progressive, habitual or a condition. 

Progressive indicates that an action is ongoing. It is translated as the "ing" of English verbs. 

Denwa o shite imasu.
I am making a phone call.
Shigoto o sagashite imasu.
I am looking for a job.


Habitual indicates repeated actions or constant states. 

Eigo o oshiete imasu.
I teach English.
Nihon ni sunde imasu.
I live in Japan.


In these instances it describes a condition, situation or the result of an action.

Kekkon shite imasu.
I am married.
Megane o kakete imasu.
I wear glasses.
Mado ga shimatte imasu.
The window is closed.
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Abe, Namiko. "Japanese Vocabulary: Frequently Asked Questions." ThoughtCo, Feb. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/japanese-vocabulary-faq-4070935. Abe, Namiko. (2017, February 23). Japanese Vocabulary: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/japanese-vocabulary-faq-4070935 Abe, Namiko. "Japanese Vocabulary: Frequently Asked Questions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/japanese-vocabulary-faq-4070935 (accessed March 18, 2018).